Keith R. Schmitz
It is time to look forward.
But the idea being floated out there that George Bush, who leaves office with an approval rating equal to that of liver, is going to be looked upon kindly by history is at best a futile hope. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning managed to find four people from the Bush-friendly suburbs who feel that someday Bush will be given his due credit.
Of course we have no idea how people and certainly historians are going to think 25 years out and beyond. Bush is a comparatively young man. Jimmy Carter turned out to be a much better post-president than he was a president, and his image has been burnished considerably by his vigorous humanitarian activities.
But the people who love Bush the best seem to come down on Carter for showing up to referee elections round the world and working on houses for Habitat for mindless do-gooderism. We hear it all the time. It would be delightful and encouraging though if W. would head up some massive humanitarian effort. What he did about AIDS in Africa does show some hopeul sins.
So the notion is that Harry Truman left the White House with dismal ratings and now is revered lead to why not Bush? But there is reason to believe that the similarity of low public regard stops there.
Start just with the circumstance of simply bidding adieu to Washington. Truman was so broke he had to borrow money simply to move back to the family home in Independence. Bush is going to be relocating to a multimillion dollar domicile in a Dallas suburb.
Then rewind to Truman's background for a check on the character issue. Sure Truman and Bush both had businesses go belly up. Truman paid back every cent he owned on the haberdashery store. Bush got bailed out by his father and his friends.
Before that Truman served his country in World War I as captain of a gunnery unit in France, greatly exposed to peril. Bush got bumped into the National Guard by his family connections. Those of us under the threat of a low draft number knew what the National Guard was for and it was not a ticket to Nam. Then there is strong evidence Bush failed to perform his obligations with his air unit.
Leading up to the presidency, Truman got his boost to the Missouri US Senate seat through his association with the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City. Truman appreciated the ride and was always loyal to his boss. But that did not affect his role as county judge -- a position similar to county executive. Truman assiduously worked to get projects such as the Jackson County courthouse built with competitive bidding and a close eye to expenses. Compare that to the no-bid contracts that poured out of the Bush administration for Iraq reconstruction.
Similarly Truman made his name nationally by heading up a bi-partisan Senate commission which rained holy hell on contractors and members of the military that tried to profit or slack off on the war effort. Again, you find no such effort during the Iraq effort.
Then look at how they got their low approval ratings. Take a walk through the Truman presidential library and witness the many really tough decisions that Truman made during his administration -- dropping the A-Bomb on Japan, the Marshall Plan, civil rights, recognition of Israel, the Korean War and many others. Much of this was forward thinking and made with the good of the country and the world in mind and because he did something that is sadly rare in American politicians -- bucked public opinion. I still have trouble imagining what the exhibits will laud at the Bush Presidential Library.
This is not to say Truman was perfect. There too was a lot of cronyism in his administration. Aha! A similarity.
But you will find none of this aspiration to greatness in Bush's decisions, or any evidence that he really made decisions. Truman's vice-president Alben Barkley was largely a seat warmer, not the behind the scenes manipulator played by Dick Cheney.
The idea that Bush has left the Obama holding the bag by passing off a bad economy is subject to debate and right now it doesn't look good for W. But his only claim to fame is that we have not been attacked after 9/11/01, as if his administration began on 9/12/01, overlooking that the perpetrator has been allowed to run free longer than Bernie Madoff. Though we have kept the lid on it here, the patience of Al Qaeda is long and terrorism has been on the rise outside of our borders.
The game of who is similar when it comes the presidency leads down a blind alley. Barack Obama is not nor never will be Abe Lincoln or FDR. But clearly for those of us who know of Harry S. Truman, George W. Bush is no Harry S. Truman.
America though is a country of second acts. Our best wishes for George W. Bush is that he finds the personal fulfillment of using his fame and connections to make a difference during his now free time.